State of the Cubs: Right field

State of the Cubs: Right field

As the Cubs maneuver through a pivotal offseason, we will break down the current state of the team by sectioning it off into position groups. Here is the 10th installment on the right fielders.

This is the final position in the "State of the Cubs" series and comes the week before the 2019 season begins. Yet the Cubs didn't fill right field with Bryce Harper this winter (as of this writing, no MLB team has, for that matter).

The Cubs right field depth chart is essentially the same it was a year ago, with the addition of Daniel Descalso as the only real change.

Depth chart

1. Jason Heyward
2. Ben Zobrist
3. Ian Happ
4. Daniel Descalso
5. Kris Bryant
6. Mark Zagunis

Heyward is still atop the Cubs depth chart in right field and will see the lion's share of playing time there barring injury. The question is: What kind of impact will Heyward make?

The veteran couldn't top 1.0 WAR either of his first two seasons with the Cubs after inking a $184 million deal before 2016, but he matched that total (2.0 WAR) in 2018 thanks to an improved offensive season.

Heyward certainly took a step forward with the bat last year, but he still wasn't quite league average (98 OPS+) and managed just a .395 slugging percentage, 8 homers and 57 RBI in 127 games despite a .270 average and .335 on-base percentage. He also really had just one good month, as June (.873 OPS) was the only month in which he posted an OPS north of .734 and he hit .248 with a .665 OPS from July 1 on.

Heyward is still an elite defender and baserunner and a valued voice inside the clubhouse, so he warrants a majority of right-field starts on those merits alone. But the Cubs could certainly use a consistently productive Heyward from an offensive end amid an offseason in which the only position player addition was Descalso.

The narrative around Heyward will always be the lofty contract and he remains the highest-paid position player on the Cubs in 2019 ($22.5 million salary), behind only Jon Lester ($27.5 million) among all players. 

In a winter where the Cubs' financial limitations has been far and away the most talked-about topic, outside expectations will always be there for Heyward to produce more than just league-average offensive numbers. But they don't need him to hit in the middle of the order and all signs point to his 2018 offensive uptick as legit, in large part due to a contact rate bordering on the elite (12.3 percent strikeout rate).

However, the Cubs know all too well they need depth behind Heyward, as he's missed more than 70 games the last two seasons with injuries and Joe Maddon may still want to give him a day off here or there against tough left-handed pitchers. Plus, the Cubs have never shied away from using Heyward in center field from time to time.

That's where Zobrist and the others come in. Right now, the 2016 World Series MVP does not have a path to regular playing time at any one position, but Zobrist figures to see plenty of innings in right field, where he started more games (52) than any other position a year ago.

The Cubs will also need to find ways to get Happ's bat in the lineup and of course, Bryant and Descalso can always move to a corner outfield spot if needed. 

Zagunis and a host of other guys — including Johnny Field, Jim Adduci and Zach Borenstein — provide minor league depth should multiple injuries strike the big-league club.

What's next?

Not Bryce Harper. Sure, he's still a free agent and he would obviously make the Cubs a better team, but it's hard to believe the price on the superstar has come down so much to the point where the Cubs could make it work. Then again, crazier things have certainly happened...

The bottom line

Heyward will be battling the sun and wind in right field at the corner of Clark and Addison all season long once again, though his offense will continue to be a storyline.

State of the Cubs: SP
State of the Cubs: RP
State of the Cubs: C
State of the Cubs: 1B
State of the Cubs: 2B
State of the Cubs: 3B
State of the Cubs: SS
State of the Cubs: LF
State of the Cubs: CF
State of the Cubs: RF

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Anthony Rizzo leaves Cubs game with injury


Anthony Rizzo leaves Cubs game with injury

In the midst of a second straight tough game against the Nationals, the Cubs were dealt another dose of bad news when Anthony Rizzo was forced out of the contest due to injury.

The first baseman was pinch-hit for in the bottom of the fifth inning with what the team called mid-back tightness. The Cubs did not have an update on his status immediately following the 7-2 loss.

Rizzo had walked the previous inning and was stranded on third base when a full-count pitch to Ian Happ was called a strike:

Rizzo made an error in each of the first two innings of the game, throwing a ball into left field when second base wasn't being covered and then dropping a throw from Javy Baez to begin the second inning.

Rizzo has dealt with back issues throughout his career, including a stint where he missed four games in mid-May.

Jonathan Lucroy hit for Rizzo in the fifth inning and doubled home the Cubs' second run of the game. He stayed in to catch while Victor Cartaini moved from behind the plate to first base.

The Cubs were already operating with a short bench since they currently have a nine-man bullpen and they had already utilized Happ off the bench earlier in the game (he was later ejected after the controversial call).

Joe Maddon has an interesting idea on how to fix the MLB Players Weekend uniforms

Joe Maddon has an interesting idea on how to fix the MLB Players Weekend uniforms


That's the first "word" Joe Maddon used to describe his thoughts on the all-white and all-black MLB Players Weekend uniforms and the Cubs manager may as well be speaking for seemingly every baseball fan on Earth.

The color schemes have not been a popular pick this weekend, from Dodgers manager Dave Roberts saying his team feels like they're wearing "milkman uniforms" to the endless run of Stormtrooper or Backstreet Boys jokes:

One of the biggest draws of Players Weekend is the nicknames on the back of the jerseys, but in the white uniforms, you can't even see the team's logo let alone what the jersey number or nameplate says.

That's led to plenty of ideas for improvement, including letting the home teams add color to their white uniforms however they see fit:

But Maddon had maybe the best idea on how to make the uniforms better for the 2020 Players Weekend.

"They should have every team design their own Players Weekend uniform," Maddon said. "That would be cool. Like with us, you go to [Anthony] Rizzo, [Jason] Heyward, [Jon] Lester, whomever your team leaders are and in the offseason, say, 'we're gonna do this next year, you're gonna be on the road, so consider road kind of uniform - go. You style the Cubs uniforms.'

"Then it truly is Players Weekend. I think you'd get a lot more interesting and better unigrams if you went that route."

That would be awesome and would allow for plenty of creativity from the players' end.

The other issue with the all-black jerseys is how closely they resemble the umpires' uniforms. At various points when the home team is up, it looks like there are five or six players on one side of the infield with the umpires.

It's also led the defenders to blend in with the wall at Wrigley, too.

"From the dugout, looking out, the ivy is so dark, also, so when their players are running out there, it's almost like they disappear into the ivy," Maddon said. "Again, it was not good form. There's no way I can advocate that. It's just not good form. And that's not even being a traditionalist, honestly. It's another version of the dress code - the worst dressers create dress codes."

The Cubs also had to make a change in regards to their hats for Players Weekend.

Home pitchers are not allowed to wear white caps because of the possibility the baseball will blend in with the hat as it's being delivered. So on Friday, Jon Lester wore his blue Cubs hat and the rest of his teammates followed suit in a show of uniform uniformity.

However, they all took the field with the white hats Saturday (Jose Quintana wearing a black Cubs hat) after being told they have to wear the all-white version this weekend.

So this weekend is all about the players and fun and games...but also rules and stipulations that must be adhered to.